FCC scrambles to implement DTV delay, protect viewers

With President Barak Obama’s signature last week, a bill delaying the DTV transition till June 12 became the law of the land, setting off a flurry of FCC activity responding to the delay.

The FCC’s first move was to deal with the 491 applications from stations seeking to transition on or before the original Feb. 17 deadline. On Feb. 11, the commission released a public notice stating it was giving 368 permission to proceed with their original transition plans and temporarily holding up 123 stations, pending their meeting certain requirements.

The list of conditions was extensive and included items such as providing local call or toll-free telephone assistance to viewers with engineering support, and establishing walk-in centers to help viewers. The commission gave theses stations until the end of the business day on Feb. 13 to certify they were meeting all of the conditions. Late on Feb. 13, the commission released the results of this hurry-up certification procedure.

Of the stations originally not granted permission to proceed with the transition, 53 certified compliance and were given the nod to transition; 10 submitted “alternate showings,” which were to be reviewed by the agency’s Media Bureau; and 43 withdrew their transition requests. In releasing the list, the commission noted that the discrepancy between the 123 stations identified initially and the 106 dealt with in the notice resulted from “technical corrections” made to the original list after its publication.

At the core of the commission’s last-minute efforts was an attempt to ensure that at least one affiliate of the major networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — stayed on the air in each market to provide over-the-air viewers who had not prepared for the transition with access to local news and emergency information. According to the commission, many markets had at least one station planning to keep its analog transmitter operating until the new deadline. In those markets that didn’t, the commission tried to meet its goal by ensuring one affiliate provided “enhanced analog nightlight” service providing programming with a minimum of local news and emergency information.

In dealing with the delay, the commission also addressed new deadlines for licensing, construction permits and the transition. In a report and order released Feb. 13, the FCC extended the construction permit deadline to build out full-authorized post-transition DTV facilities until June 12, 2009, at 11:59:59 p.m. local time. Similarly, it extended the termination of stations’ analog licenses until June 12, 2009, at 11:59:59 p.m. local time. Finally, it extended the date stations could begin operation from a facility for post-transition service from 12 a.m. Feb. 18 until 12 a.m. local time June 13.

As a result of this last-minute jockeying, 421 of the nation’s nearly 1800 full-power TV stations transitioned Feb. 17, joining the 220 stations that had transitioned prior to the original deadline. Thus, the nation now has 641 stations, about 36 percent of the total, that have completed their DTV transition and shutdown analog service.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.